|Job 23:1-9, 16-17 – Job’s lament: If only I could vanish in darkness and thick darkness would cover my face.
or Amos 5:6-7, 10-1 – Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the Lord will be with you, as you have said he is.
Psalm 22:1-15 – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
or Psalm 90:12-17– So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. (Ps. 90:12)
Hebrews 4:12-16 – The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. All are naked a laid bare before him.
Mark 10:17-31– Rich young ruler. Eye of the needle. For God all things are possible. First last. Last first.
Hey everyone, I want to begin with a couple of reminders for those who are in our Gulf Coast Region…
First, we are doing a series of leadership gatherings for congregational leaders this month. One is in Houston, one is in New Orleans and one is in Brenham. If you’re not signed up, please pick one at www.gulfcoastsynod.org/events.html and come.
Second, we are hard at work on a strategic plan with four key areas:
- Streamline synod structures, creating a leaner organization
- Help congregations become better known in their communities
- Develop a "partnership" that is 100% devoted to supporting ministry excellence
- Plant one new congregation a year
Read more about it at going to www.gulfcoastsynod.org and clicking on the tree.
The Sundays in October and November are a time when a lot of congregations talk about giving. This is, in part, because it is budget time, but there is more to it than just that. The end of the year is the harvest. The crops are gathered in and sold. Tithes are made. Even in our modern society, bonuses come in for folks in some professions, and it is a time when financial gifts are made. The Bible is rife with images of the harvest. It is a time of reckoning, a time to take stock of things. The end of the year is also a great time to plan for the coming year. It is a time to think about what we are going to spend, what we are going to save and what we are going to give.
The lectionary does not disappoint on this matter. This week we have the story of the Rich Young Ruler. He believes he has kept the whole law, so Jesus tells him to go sell everything he has and give the money to the poor. He goes away sad. Jesus does not chase him down. Instead, he tells his disciples it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples are astonished, and say, "Uh-oh. Then who can be saved?" Jesus replies, in essence, "No one. Although, for God, all things are possible." There are both law and gospel in this story.
There is no getting around it. Jesus is all about giving. If people complain that the church is always asking for money, perhaps it is because we all too often talk about giving to budgets. The fact remains, Jesus talks about giving and generosity more than just about anything else. We need to talk to people about opening their hearts to God and neighbor.
Eleven years ago, a group of people illustrated this heart-opening generosity in a way that caught my attention. This is a great lesson, and I offer it to you to use whenever you see fit, without attribution. It’s a true story, you can look it up. The details vary from source to source, but this is an experience that changed lives. Don’t read the story. Tell it.
Eleven years ago last month, Delta Flight 15 was over the North Atlantic, en route from London’s Gatwick Airport to Cincinnati, Ohio, when flight attendant Joyce Hanson was ordered to the cockpit immediately, where the stern-faced captain handed her a message from Atlanta that simply said, "All airways over the Continental US are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination."
The nearest airport turned out to be in a town called Gander, on the island of Newfoundland. A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a detour to Gander was approved immediately. They simply told the passengers they were having instrument troubles. When they landed 40 minutes later, there were already 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world, and 60 more were on the way. The captain made an announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have." He explained that there was terrorist activity. No one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near the aircrafts.
At 6 p.m. on September 11, Gander airport told them that they would be allowed to deplane at 11:00 the next morning. About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th a convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the airplane, the stairway was hooked up and the passengers were taken to the terminal for "processing" through Immigration and Customs. They then had to register with the Red Cross.
The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people. The Red Cross ended up processing around 8,000 passengers. Passengers from various flights were taken to hotels, churches, schools and private homes, where they finally watched the news and learned what was going on. At such a deeply troubling time in American history, the "Plane people" as they came to be known were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people of Gander and outlying communities. With nothing to do, and nowhere to go, for two days they did nothing but enjoy the company of strangers.
Steve Kirby of Delta Flight 37 said that in the small town of Gambo, where they stayed, the two small stores simply opened their doors all night long and told the community to "take what you need." He said, "Every meal was a feast. I gained 28 pounds." For two days they lived in the new community – a community of kindness, hospitality, generosity, sharing.
218 passengers from Delta Flight 15 ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 Kilometers from Gander. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were lodged in private homes. Nurses and doctors were on duty. Phone calls and emails to US and Europe were available for every one once a day.
Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went to see local forests. Local bakeries offered fresh bread for the guests. Food was prepared by all the residents and church members and brought to schools and churches. Every need was met. In later news interviews, tears would stream down their faces as passengers would tell these stories.
Pat Bernard says that she slept in a padded pew at St. George Anglican Church. When they left, the church had a big good-bye service for them, tons of food, church bells ringing, people hugging.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or… what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them… Consider the lilies of the field… they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…
Two days later the passengers were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single one missing or late. When the passengers from Delta Flight 15 were all on board, one of the business class passengers, a Dr. Robert Ferguson got on the PA and reminded everyone of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund to provide a scholarship for high school students of Lewisporte to help them go to college. He requested donations of any amount from the other travelers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, it totaled to $14,500. The doctor got on the PA again and promised to match the donations.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we catch a glimpse of real hospitality, divine generosity, it changes us forever. We cannot help but give back. True gratitude expresses itself in sacrificial giving. Jesus gives himself 100% to God, even to giving his life on the cross. When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we recall the lavish, prodigal generosity of God, we remember Jesus’ giving of his own life, his death and resurrection, we eat and drink to this utterly new community in Christ, we catch a glimpse of the lavish grace of God, and what it means for our lives. I challenge you to be that new community, out of the grace that God has lavished upon you in Jesus Christ. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger.
By the way, the Gander Flight 15 Scholarship Fund, administered by the Columbus Foundation at 1234 East Broad Street, Columbus Ohio, is administered by Shirley Brooks-Jones, a retired administrative assistant from Ohio State University. She was on that flight. The fund started with $14,500. Today it is worth over one million dollars.
Generosity is a sign of the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. It is a sign that our hearts have been touched by God.
Never neglect to offer hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.